The Colour of Money – Steven Falk

April 19, 2013

Roberto Martinez, the Wigan Athletic manager, has expressed his bewilderment at the Football Association’s decision to move the kick-off time of an FA Cup final featuring two clubs from Greater Manchester from the traditional 3pm to 5.15pm which means they will miss the last train back from London. 

There is no mystery concerning the reason. It’s all about money. 

More specifically, it’s about the revenue flowing into the FA from the sale of TV rights. Not that there’s anything wrong with selling TV rights. It’s just that by allowing the TV companies to determine the kick-off time without considering the interests of the fans who will actually attend the match, the FA has also sold its integrity. 

We are constantly reminded of the fabulous traditions of the FA Cup. Each match is previewed with a plethora of nostalgic images. Abide with me. Over-excited flat-capped men deferring to a policeman on a white horse. Rosettes and rattles. Bob Stokoe capering. Charlie George stretched out. Ronnie Radford’s rocket. Ricky Villa slaloming through the City defense. 

Clubs are pilloried when managers put out “understrength teams” in the early rounds of the competition. Middle-aged men in polyester blazers grumble about “lost heritage” and clubs’ pursuit of profit over the FA’s purer values. Remember the furor that erupted in 2000 when Manchester United pulled out of the competition to play in FIFA’s Club World Championship instead? (At the request of the FA incidentally, who believed it would help England’s bid to stage the World Cup – and we all know how that ended!). 

But here’s the rub. Following the FA’s disgraceful decision to base the national stadium at Wembley and its gross mismanagement of the project (over a year late and some £75m over budget), it now faces a real commercial challenge to recover the £798m construction cost. 

In 2011, finance charges on Wembley cost the FA around £41m (made up of £17m loan repayment plus £24m interest). Hence the need to “monetize the content”. Given that the FA’s outstanding debt of £289m will be repaid only by 2023, fans can expect to be treated as cash-cows to be milked hard for several years to come. 

And don’t forget. The FA is a “not for profit” organization. It’s not for fans either.

Steven Falk is founder of Star Sports Marketing a consultancy providing advice on sponsorship activation, brand development, membership programmes, CRM and affinity marketing. Clients include Chelsea FC, World Academy of Sport and Jockey Club Racecourses.

Star Sports Marketing can help you to devise and implement an effective partnership strategy.

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